Landscape photography is often the first stage for a photographer because they usually want to photograph the beauty that they see around them or while they are on vacation. You could say that many of those scenic shots you got while on vacation are in fact “landscape shots” So now what is is the difference between those shots and the ones that are hanging on the walls in galleries or published in books?
Normally, titles like this are click-bait for a new ebook or photo-gadget. However, I have nothing to sell just an idea. This is something that I have picked up from mainly reading David DuChemin. In his books, he talks a lot about vision and this is something that got me thinking the other day when someone sent me a message about looking at their photo.
When a portrait photographer takes a photo of a person, we instantly know what the subject is. There may be some more meaning added but the overall subject is in fact the person that they have photographed. For landscape photographers, we are dealing with a subject that is many kilometres in diameter and has almost infinite elements to it. Thus, when you simply raise your camera and photograph the scene in front of you, the result usually is a series of flat photos with no distinct subject or meaning.
Finding Your Vision
For me, vision is a big word. In my mind it has a lot to do with the direction, purpose, and meaning behind a photo. To simplify this, when I look at a photo that is of a valley taken in the middle of the day with harsh blue cloudless skies, I wonder “what’s the vision behind this photo?” What was the photographer trying to convey? Typically, the answer is “It was such a nice day and I wanted to take a photo” That is all fine and good but if your vision or message for the photo was “a beautiful scene” why then did you choose that day or that time?
It is this detail that many beginner photographers forget when they start out. They are thinking that the magic of the camera will turn this scene into something magical. You have to really listen to the voices inside your head… Well, not if they are telling you to do something crazy. What I mean is, when you go to a location, step back and really try and look at it. What does it say to you? Where are your eyes drawn to? How can you express that feeling you have at that moment?
Taking all of this into consideration you will start to find your vision. Now, you have an idea of what you want to shoot and what to focus on. Instead if running around clicking and shooting at everything, you have a greater sense of purpose for your work. This is also going to trigger a more creative flow as your brain has a direction and can explore the possibilities and new ways to communicate your vision.
It may take a moment perhaps just walking around to try and find your vision for the photo. Often we get so overwhelmed by the moment we forget what we really want to communicate. Take for example my recent trip out Busan a little while ago.
We were on the 63rd floor of the of the Busan International Finance Centre. Currently there is a viewing platform that is a haven for photographers. Even though you have to shoot through glass, the view is stunning and one that I really enjoy.
However, there is so much to shoot and a very short timeframe to shoot (think sunset to blue hour). Thus, without a clear vision in mind, you may walk away with some okay shots but they simply won’t have the same impact as ones that you’ve thought about. Again, you are not just trying to record the scene but, tell a story. For me, I started off just firing away. Pressed for time, I started snapping away at everything. Then I started to really think “what am I trying to say?”
I wanted to show the view from up there, but what I was lacking was something for the eye to anchor on. Then I say the intersection below and then the vision or focus came, at least for that particular shot. After that, it was just waiting for the right time and elements to be in place. That one change then had me catching on to other details from other view points.
Fine-tuning Your Vision
Once you have the vision for the photo in mind, it is then up to you to try and figure out what or how express it. This means selecting the right tools for the job. As a landscape photographer I rely a lot of a few lenses to do the job. From wide-angles to zoom lenses, you have to find the right lens to express your vision. Nothing about gear envy here. You will notice that with a lot of Pro Photographers, they are not that focussed on the latest gear the way many hobby photographers are. The reason is that if you have a style of a particular vision then getting a new lens is only meaningful if it will allow them to communicate their vision better.
Much can be said about editing too and how it can help your vision. For me, having the lightroom and photoshop package is essential. I can switch back and forth between the two programs when I need to. However, if you are new then there is no reason for you to try and learn both. If simple edits are all you need to do or want to do then a cheaper basic photo editor is all that you really need.
Let’s face it, sometimes your photos just don’t work out. Sometimes despite being perfectly sharp and balanced overall, they just don’t work. Having a vision means that you can look at your photos and really figure out what went wrong. This is essential to learning in order to get better. When you look at your photo and think to yourself “ok, I wanted to say this. However, it doesn’t really say anything…why?” It is this process that will fine tune your entire process. Maybe you didn’t get close enough? Maybe you didn’t edit it properly?
These questions related to your vision are what will give you the answers and teach you how to make better photographs. All these things are going to help you when you head out again. Not having a vision leaves too much guess work and ambiguity. If you just fired off a few shots and got lucky, how will you do it again?
Learning from your mistakes is one thing, but learning from your mistakes as it relates to a specific vision will make you a better photographer.
Be The Visionary
I know that you are probably thinking that I have started on some “new age” kick or something. However, this has everything to do with how you tell your story and finding a vision for your work. Think about it this way, if I just started talking about beautiful pictures. Telling you about Busan and Ulsan and this one time in Seoul. Yup, you may find it entertaining but nobody likes that steady stream of consciousness for very long.
When you write blog post much like photography, the best ones have a strong subject and an overall vision. That’s what makes them interesting. So find your vision before you go out, choose a location that suits your vision, compose and shoot for your vision, then edit so that you emphasize that vision. That is really all there is to it. Now, get out there, look towards the horizon and find your vision!